|FALMOUTH- Although 48 years have passed, Pat MacIsaac
of Yarmouthport remembers using his hands to dam blood gushing from a bullet
hole in Tom Heatley's leg.
He remembers the steady "zing, zing, zing" as enemy bullets hit the compressor and bulldozer the Americans were trying to move through Schlitz, Germany, on that April Fool' Day in 1945. He remembers tying his white handkerchief to the end of his M-1 rifle, the universal message for surrender.
"I realized there was nothing else I could do. They took us prisoner but they mostly wanted our fuel," MacIsaac said.
When MacIsaac admitted he was not a medic, the German soldiers pushed him away. Heatley was still bleeding badly as MacIsaac and five other Americans were marched off as prisoners of war.
When MacIsaac got back to the states eight months later, he called Heatley's family in Connecticut and was stunned to hear his comrade had made it.
After recuperating, Heatley went to college and became director of the Barnstable County Hospital in Pocasset. MacIsaac owned and operated Luigi's restaurant in Hyannis - now Up The Creek.
The men remained close until years ago when time did what the German bullet could not that day.
Tom Heatley's name was one of more than 200 read aloud Thursday night as 80 members of the 150th Engineers combat battalion honored their dead in a twilight ceremony on the lawn of the Shoreway Acres Inn.
The 150th, one of the few World War II battalions composed entirely of New Englanders, built more than 300 bridges that carried Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army through occupied France and into Germany.
"We were always under fire," he said. "We had a motto that said, "We never walk. We always ride (on tanks) or run."
About 600 strong when it was formed at Fort Devens in 1943, the 150th lost two members before they even left the United States. The men drowned when a boat overturned on a training exercise on the Merrimac River in New Hampshire.
In Europe, taking a bulldozer into enemy territory was dangerous work. Even at the 150th's first reunion in 1947, there was a long list of dead to be honored. Forty-six years later, the youngest members of the highly decorated battalion are 68, and the memorial list grows longer each year.
"Boy, it's tough. They read off the names and then they blow taps," MacIsaac said. "There's a tear in every eye because each one of us was close to one or another of the guys." Thursday's solemn tribute is just one part of the annual gathering that has been held every year since 1947 and has grown from one night to a week.
"I don't feel they come to talk about the sadness, about who got killed. I think they remember the camaraderie, the good stories," said Ann Kimball of Lowell, whose husband, George H. Kimball was in the battalion.
Shaw tells how drill sergeant Sylvester Szychulski, now 77 and living in Racine, Wis., waited nearly 30 years before going to his first reunion in 1976.
During the war, Shaw was the medic who treated Szychulski after a machine gun bullet went through his helmet, grazed his ear and passed through the back of his helmet. The dazed sergeant had a headache but refused hospitalization.
Thirty years later, he wanted one thing from Shaw. A letter of verification. It seems Szychulski had trouble getting people to believe his close call.
Asked how to spell his name, Szychulski proved drill sergeants do not mellow with age. "I'll say to you what I said to my men: I'll tell you my name once and you're going to forget it!" he boomed.
Although they were trained to build bridges, the 150th's construction skills got their first test at Camp Edwards where they built "Deutschedorf," a simulated German village. Camp Edwards was the last training stop for hundreds of thousands of combat-bound soldiers, and the Army wanted Americans to know how to fight on the enemy's turf.
From there, the 150th was off to Scotland aboard the Queen Mary, which departed a few days before Christmas 1943. Shaw remembers President Roosevelt's holiday radio address. In order to mislead German submarines that were gunning for American ships, Roosevelt assured mothers that none of their boys were on the rough treacherous seas over the holidays.
"Boy, was I seasick." murmured Arthur Boucher of Boylston, the nauseous misery still in his voice after 50 years.
When the men of the 150th get together once a year, they spend much of their time in a world that no longer exists. In this place, the Germans are still "Krauts" - a term that would make the politically correct cringe. The Berlin Wall has not even been built yet, never mind torn down.
Each year, the men relive those two years, dredging up forgotten stories, debating details, arguing over what was really important.
"Well, Jasmine could tell you but Jasmine went and died on us," one voice says as men quibble good naturedly toward the dinner hour. Men like the briefly mentioned Jasmine or Tom Heatley or dozens of others live on here, the threads of them inextricably woven into the 150th's collective memory.
"To me, it's like they retell the same stories over and over again. I've heard them all so many times," Mrs. Kimball said. "But when they come to the reunion, the fellas relive the whole thing."
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